09/15/2011 09:08 EDT | Updated 11/15/2011 05:12 EST

Enlightenment on the Keystone Pipeline

Getty Images

Last week, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu and seven other Nobel Peace Prize recipients added their voices to the growing chorus calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Their letter to the president comes after two weeks of demonstrations at the White House that saw more than 1,200 people arrested in the biggest civil disobedience in the U.S. since the Vietnam War.

If all seems quiet in comparison on this side of the border, that's because our government essentially rubber-stamped the pipeline over a year ago. While opposition mounts in the U.S. and our ambassador in Washington continues to defend our desire to pump more dirty oil into the country, President Obama is the one who can still make the right decision: reject the pipeline in favour of clean energy.

But, that doesn't mean that the Canadian government is off the hook. It is Canada's failure to look at the full impacts of new tar sands projects -- global warming pollution, toxic waste, impacts on communities living downstream -- and failure to put limits on those impacts that, in part, drives the controversy in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. And, blinded by the tar sands, our government's energy strategy has been to support rapid tar sands expansion and bully other countries into buying more of it rather than to map out a path away from oil to clean energy.

Now that is coming back to bite Canada in the form of growing opposition from other countries. Rather than making real changes to address the concerns raised, Canada has beefed up its lobby efforts abroad in an attempt to put a greener spin on our dirty oil. While Environment Minister Peter Kent has been promising regulations to deal with global warming caused partly by pollution from the tar sands, strong rules to actually reduce the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the sector are nowhere on the horizon.

Hopefully, the Keystone XL protests will be a wake-up call to Ottawa. The problem is only getting worse, and it's time to use the tools in the federal government's toolbox to fix it. First, put regulations in place that put firm limits on the water, air and carbon pollution coming from the tar sands sector. Second, work with the provinces and our main trading partners to create a roadmap off oil to a clean energy economy.

Finally, while the Keystone XL pipeline decision is now on President Obama's desk, our federal government will soon need to decide on another new major tar sands pipeline -- Enbridge's Northern Gateway. Given the mounting opposition from First Nations communities along the proposed pipeline route, the impact of increased tar sands production to fill the pipeline and the growing recognition that we're heading in the wrong direction on energy, the federal government can expect to hear from Canadians urging for the rejection of that pipeline.

Maybe the prime minister will even hear from the Dalai Lama about it...